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Monday 5 December 2016

So, just who did kill the Christmas Number One?

The wacky festive smash hit is gone, but if the current batch of songs are more sober maybe it's because we are too, writes Ed Power

Published 20/12/2012 | 06:00

Who killed the Christmas novelty smash? For decades, wacky, bonkers or faintly disturbing Yuletide hits were part of what this time of year was about. It is, lest we forget, just two years since Rubberbandits' 'Horse Outside' came close to reaching number one (only to suffer the indignity of being kept off by X Factor pub-warbler Matt Cardle).

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In 2012, the pop landscape is altogether drearier. The battle for the Christmas number one will, it appears, be a straight slug-out between a syrupy charity cover of Elton John's 'Tiny Dancer', featuring Paddy Casey and others, and Gabrielle Aplin's toe-curlingly polite reading of Frankie Goes To Hollywood's 'The Power of Love'.

What happened to the annual tide of bizarre musical offerings by children's cartoon characters? Where are the bands who, unable to get arrested the rest of the year, enjoy a seasonal resurrection with that Christmas favourite they released eons ago? Who went and made the Christmas charts so incredibly boring?

There's an argument that, as with so much else in life, it's all Simon Cowell's fault. In 2004, he struck upon the wheeze of releasing every X Factor winner's debut single in the run-up to Christmas. Thus for the past seven years we have been subjected to a series of increasingly vapid Cowell-approved pap, from Alexandra Burke's 'Hallelujah' to Leona Lewis's 'A Moment Like This' to Little Mix's despair-inducing tilt at Damien Rice's 'Cannonball'.

Half a decade plus of X Factor has, it is tempting to conclude, recalibrated our relationship with Christmas hits in profound and disturbing ways.

Where once we were braced for tinsel and silliness, now the expectation is songs that are deeply moving and have important things to say about love and life. It is significant that the last Irish song to reach Christmas number one was, in fact, a novelty track – Mario Rosenstock's Gift Grub cover of Will Young's 'Leave Right Now', back in 2005.

It didn't take long for the scourge of worthiness to spread beyond X Factor. In 2010, Ellie Goulding, she of the lovely hair, very nearly reached number one with another smotheringly well-intentioned Elton cover, 'Your Song'.

It was ultimately eclipsed by a social media campaign on behalf of Rage Against the Machine's 'Killing In the Name Of' – the entire point of which was to prevent X Factor champ Joe McElderry topping the charts.

In the wider landscape, the X Factor's influence may at last be dwindling.

However, the trend towards sensible 'grown-up' music shows little sign of dying away. This year, Kylie, the Pet Shop Boys and Girls Aloud are putting out Christmas singles, one more dreary and spirit-sapping than the last. It's like 'Mr Blobby' and 'Bob the Builder' never happened.

Nicola McGeady of Boyle Sports says: "With the X Factor losing popularity, the tide has turned and people are getting behind charity singles."

Alongside X Factor, another contribution to the decline of the Christmas hit may be the changing face of kids' television. With 15 or so digital channels catering to children, plus RTE, BBC etc, the number of kiddie franchises has ballooned. If, for instance, Dora the Explorer or Peppa Pig were to release singles in 2012, what are the chances of them charting, let alone going to number one?

Then again, maybe it's all a lot more straightforward. Our obsession with novelty songs ended around the time the economy imploded. If the current batch of Christmas hits are more sober, maybe it's because we are too.

"I absolutely hated those novelty songs," says 2FM veteran Larry Gogan. "I used to get nightmares when I had to play 'Mr Blobby'."

Irish Independent

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